Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISDs)

What is a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing?

Critical Incident Stress Debriefings (CISDs) are a confidential service using a specially trained facilitator to help employees manage stress reactions to work-related incidents occurring on or off company premises. The process involves a confidential, non-evaluative discussion of the thoughts, responses and feelings resulting from an incident. It serves to reduce the stress impact resulting from exposure to a critical incident through the expression of feelings along with educational and informational components.

A CISD promotes a more rapid recovery from traumatic incidents and aids normal integration back into work and home routines. Typically a debriefing takes place within 24-72 hours of the incident and lasts one to three hours. Additional follow-up to the debriefing can be arranged if needed. It is not a form of therapy or treatment and is neither an operational critique nor a formal inquiry. Typical examples include:
  • Robberies
  • Natural disasters
  • Auto accidents
  • Sudden client or employee injury or illness
  • Severe or prolonged illness of an employee (cancer, AIDS, etc.)
  • Sudden death of an employee
  • Company layoffs
  • Plant closings

Why offer a CISD?

The purpose of the debriefing is to take the active memories of the event and store them into long-term memory. After a traumatic event, our minds work to bring closure to the incident. Until closure is reached, we continue to replay the incident in our minds in order to make sense of it. A major consequence of a traumatic event is that the person feels he or she has lost order and control in their life. The brain keeps reliving the sequence of events to regain order and control.

In a CISD, a trained professional helps the individuals understand the event, their inability to control situations and then store the incident in their long-term memory. Not all situations or people need a debriefing, but for those who cannot sleep, develop anger issues or have difficulty focusing, a debriefing may prevent post-traumatic stress.


Our goal in a CISD it to relieve the effects of trauma and eliminate or reduce delayed stress reactions. Through a CISD, anyone exposed to a critical incident has a chance to avoid exacerbated symptoms. Although individuals often receive debriefing one-on-one, debriefing is best for groups that have been exposed to the same incident.

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